A CHESHIRE prison heavily criticised in a damning inspectors report has been given permission to almost double its population.
Styal Prison has been given the green light to expand and become one of Europe's largest women's jails.
The Prison Service last night confirmed it had been granted planning permission to increase the prison's capacity from just over 400 to 770.
The service made its initial planning application last December and intends to develop the jail next to the prison on land which it bought from Manchester City Council two years ago.
The jail has been in the spotlight for a year following a spate of six apparently self-inflicted deaths.
Last month the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, published a report which heavily criticised the jail's drug treatment regime and raised concerns over the use of a special cell for prisoners under restraint.
Last night a Home Office spokeswoman said the Government still had confidence the regime could be improved.
She said: "Anne Owers has said what needs to be changed and we are confident we can deal with the problems identified at Styal.
"Planning clearance has been granted for the site immediately adjacent for 360 places, however,
there are no immediate plans to proceed with the build.
"This approach enables us to plan strategically and begin building when we need rather than identifying need and having to go through the clearance process."
She added the planning application was made in response to increasing prison numbers and that the permission, from Macclesfield Borough Council, would remain for five years.
Pauline Campbell, whose daughter Sarah died just hours after arriving at the prison in January 2003, said the decision "flies in the face of common sense".
Mrs Campbell, from Malpas, Cheshire, added: "I am angry, astonished and amazed at this.
"Two years ago, Anne Owers issued a damning report on Styal. Recently we have had a further report and, in between the reports, we have had six deaths and only one inquest.
"This is not the time to announce that it is going to be the biggest women's prison in Europe."
Anita Dockley, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "The recent history of the prison should make it a contender for closure rather than expansion." Ms Owers most recent report described the prison's Waite Wing as "bleak and cramped" and said there were "serious deficiencies" in prison procedures.